TAMPA — Elease Moore says she tried to persuade her great-grandaughter to stay home, but 15-year-old Julissa Jackson, a new mother of a two-month old son, was determined to go to a New Year’s Day party.
"I said, ‘Julissa, you can’t go to every party because there’s just too much shooting going on now and people just taking a life for nothing,’" Moore said Tuesday through sobs as she stood on her front stoop. "She stood halfway in that door there and said, ‘Grandma, I’ll be back,’ and something was telling me she’ll never be back."
Hours later, Jackson and a 25-year-old friend, Jyhaad D. Grant, were caught in a hail of bullets fired by two security guards hired for a teen night event at the Stor-ette Business Park, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Jackson and Grant, who also had a two-month old baby at home, died at the scene.
The guards, Keyon Williams, 28, and Connor Harm, 18, told deputies they returned fire after they heard gunshots and saw someone shooting at them from a car in the parking lot, sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski told reporters at the scene. Jackson and Grant were in that car, a black Nissan Sentra.
It was still unclear Tuesday if investigators found a gun in the Nissan. The Sheriff’s Office did not release this or other details, citing the pending investigation. No criminal charges had been filed against the security guards.
The shooting unfolded about 10:45 p.m., nearly three hours after the teen party began in a banquet hall at 5809 N 50th Street. The hall is part of the Stor-Ette business park and storage center and is rented out for events.
As many as 200 people were in the hall when several fights broke out inside and managers decided to end the party. It had been scheduled to last until midnight. As people were filtering out of the hall, Williams and Harm heard fireworks, then gunshots, deputies said. Both guards moved toward the sounds and saw someone firing a weapon from inside the car that Jackson and Grant were in, Lusczynski said.
"Being in fear for their lives at that time, both fired their guns," she said.
Williams and Harm are both registered by the state of Florida to work as armed guards. They were working for A.J. Cardinal Group, a corporation doing business as Eagle One Security Force, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
A message left at the company’s Tampa office was not returned Tuesday. A representative for the business park also could not be reached.
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After the sun rose over the industrial stretch of road on a bitter cold Tuesday morning, the passenger side window of a black Nissan Sentra appeared to be riddled with bullet holes. So did a nearby pickup truck. Yellow evidence markers dotted the ground. A gold Nissan Altima was parked perpendicular to the Sentra, right against its back bumper.
Arlexus Taylor, Jackson’s 16-year-old cousin, told the Tampa Bay Times she and Jackson walked out of the club together and parted ways. Then the shooting began. Taylor was in a car leaving when she passed by the Sentra and saw two men in black standing by the car, firing at it, and a young male firing out the rear passenger window of the gold car.
"She was in the middle of the cross fire," Taylor said. "She was stuck."
If Grant did have a gun, he was breaking the law. Records show he pleaded guilty last year to carrying a concealed, unlicensed firearm The court withheld judgment in the case but he was placed on felony probation, records show. In the same 2016 case, Grant also pleaded guilty to grand theft, resisting a law enforcement officer with violence, uttering a forged instrument and possession of marijuana.
He has four other previous arrests in Florida, most recently a probation violation in 2016.
Both families have questions about the security guards’ account of what happened.
Jackson’s cousin, Paulonda Hardy, said the teen would not have been armed.
"She don’t carry guns. She’s a baby," Hardy said. "The security guard should have found out where the shots were coming from before he shot into the car."
Angel Madison, Grant’s girlfriend of eight years, told the Times she doubts Grant had a gun, but if he did, he had it for protection and he was firing it to protect himself.
"He’s not easily provoked," Madison, 25, said as she stood on the porch of her mother’s house in the Riverside Heights area of Tampa. "The only way he’s going to do anything to anybody, he has to feel like his life is threatened. I don’t believe that story and we just want to know what actually happened."
Madison last saw Grant on Monday morning, before he left in her car, the black Sentra, to visit friends at the home of Jackson’s great-grandmother on East 23rd Avenue. Madison expected him home at their apartment in the University area because his probation required him to be in by 10.
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Grant grew up Tampa’s Central Park neighborhood, graduated from Middleton High School and had recently finished a pharmacy tech program. He was working as a driver and installer for a landscaping company, Madison said. Grant was excited about the birth of his daughter, Jykhia,, she said.
"He was a good guy," Madison said. "He always wanted to have fun and I think that’s what he wanted to do last night. Overall, he’s very sweet, caring, would do anything for anybody."
Madison created a GoFundMe page to help pay for Grant’s funeral expenses. When asked what she would tell her daughter about her father, she covered her face and began to cry.
"I’ll just let her know that he really, really loved her," she said.
Jackson grew up in Tampa, started the school year attending North Tampa Alternative and planned to transfer to the D.W. Waters Career Center after the winter break, according to her family. She and her son Jyceon were living with Moore, her great-grandmother.
"She was really happy over the baby," Moore said. "She was very proud."
As a cold wind blew onto Moore’s porch Tuesday morning, Jackson’s family huddled together and sobbed. Then they took a moment to pray, asking God to wrap his hands around them and put a stop violence claiming the lives of teens.
"Amen," said Jackson’s mother, Johneasha. Then she turned to the rolling television cameras. "Just pray for our family, please."
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.